Data: Blacks at higher risk to be stopped

Some see problems with the disparity of numbers in police stops and arrests in Columbia.
Friday, May 28, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 11:52 p.m. CDT, Thursday, July 10, 2008

Ebony McTye said she doesn’t need to see statistics on racial profiling to convince her that it exists in Columbia.

Over three months, McTye said she was stopped and searched by members of the Columbia Police Department six times. Each time, she said, the officer found nothing.

“That just bothers me,” 25-year-old McTye said. “I work as hard as the next person. There’s no rule that says a black person can’t work as hard as a white person.”

Considering they make up about 9.3 percent of the Columbia population age 16 and older, blacks are being stopped, searched and arrested at a disproportionately high rate, according to 2003 statistics released Thursday by Attorney General Jay Nixon’s office.

That doesn’t surprise McTye, who said she thinks racial profiling exists in the patrol practices of Columbia police. Nixon’s office defines racial profiling as “the inappropriate use of race by law enforcement when making a decision to stop, search or arrest.”

In his analysis of the report on traffic stops, Nixon emphasized that statistical disproportion alone does not indicate racial profiling by law enforcement officers. He also said that collecting the data has inspired constructive dialogue between agencies and communities.

Columbia’s numbers, which have been compiled and released annually for four years and are based on the 2000 Census, show almost no change from last year.

Mary Ratliff, president of the Columbia branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said the Columbia Police Department needs a system to prevent racial profiling, though she wasn’t sure exactly what it was that needed to happen.

“Certainly I think that we have to take a hard, long look at those stats, and yes, I think that we’re going to have to do something to stop it,” Ratliff said.

Columbia Police Chief Randy Boehm said a high proportion of traffic stops are made in Beat 50 and Beat 55, an area in the central city, or the First Ward, with a high population of African Americans. More officers are assigned there due to a high volume of calls for service, he said.

Boehm said that between 10 percent and 12 percent of Columbia officers are African Americans. He said he thinks the force is representative of the population of Columbia.

Dick Kurtenbach, executive director of the Kansas and Western Missouri American Civil Liberties Union, said racial profiling is a problem across Missouri.

“Clearly, the problem persists. The overall disparity is clearly present,” Kurtenbach said. “It indicates there is more work to be done.”

To eliminate racial profiling, he encourages more training for law enforcement, additional work by advocacy groups and local pressure on government officials. He considers the data collection an important enforcement tool to eliminate racial profiling, but it needs to be backed up with more action.

“At some point, we’ve got to say if the problem persists in the numbers, this is not working,” Kurtenbach said.

— Missourian reporter Kate Moser contributed to this report.

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